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Kind Favor Kind Letter

Winter 2011
Winter 2011
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Tatiana Ginsberg works in drawing, print, artist book, and installation, most of which incorporate her own handmade paper. After studying at the University of Iowa Center for the Book, she spent two years in Japan on a Fulbright research grant, investigating the tradition of naturally dyed washi. She completed her MFA at UC Santa Barbara and currently teaches as a visiting artist at Mount Holyoke College and in workshops around the US and abroad.  Kind Favor Kind Letter is a collaborative project by Kate Carr, Lee Emma Running, and myself, which has taken the form of two exhibitions and an artist book. It was first shown at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center in 2009, and then at Grinnell College's Faulconer Gallery in 2011. In between, the artist book we designed was produced by Pyramid Atlantic. None of these was a showcase for individual or even collaborative works but rather the result of a process of working together that began with the ritual of papermaking. Kate, Lee, and I studied at the University of Iowa Center for the Book in 2003, and during that time worked with Tim Barrett and Lynn Amlie to make production paper at the Oakdale paper facility. We discovered that we had many things in common, including having all been at Dieu Donné Papermill in New York City.

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While cooking fiber, beating pulp, and forming sheets, we listened to one another's stories. And as we attended to the fiber's needs we came to know intuitively just when to put out a hand to catch a dripping felt or how to move to remain perfectly in sync. We lost ourselves in the ritual of making things together and built our friendship on attention to materials. A few years passed, and we moved apart but kept in touch, periodically sending each other updates and images. Despite being out of regular contact, uncanny parallels showed up in our work. For example, after making watermarked sheets with shorthand forms, I discovered that Kate and Lee had used the same kind of glyphs in a letterpress project. Eventually we decided to collaborate. As Lee points out, it seemed natural that we would make things together because we always had. As we prepared for the first show, we decided to ritualize our connection in a tactile way through letter writing. We lived too far apart to meet often, so for a year we corresponded regularly, using mostly handmade paper and enclosing not only ideas but materials, colored swatches, drawings, and other inspirations that could be folded into an envelope. Since we had all worked with shorthand, we chose the title of the show from a pair of successive phrases in a 1902 copy of The Gregg Shorthand Phrase Book. Shorthand glyphs, of words such as "ephemeral," "process," and "paper" became part of our visual language, and their looping forms started to suggest other connecting structures such as garlands, vines, or crochet. Our papermaking background led us to explore the transformation of other materials at the level of the fiber structure. For example, muslin scraps leftover from making one garland were beaten into fine pulp for embedding handwriting into sheets of kozo. Through each manifestation our ideas evolved. We saved most of the material from the Pyramid installation but wanted to use it differently in the larger space at Grinnell. Since the book had been completed in the meantime, we thought of the walls at the Faulconer as enormous pages on which elements that were extremely subtle in the book would appear 12 feet high. We made new pieces and revisited old ones. For example, a series of shorthand glyphs cut out of handmade flax that were hung in a cloudlike form in the Pyramid show were pasted to the walls to form a horizon line at Grinnell. During the installation, we realized we had developed our own "shorthand" for the forms we were using and their connections. Like making paper, collaboration has become a ritual that helps us in our personal work as well. Kind Favor Kind Letter looks like each of our work and yet like nothing any of us would have done alone. The artist book Kind Favor Kind Letter is available from Pyramid Atlantic: Ed.